Monday, October 25, 2010

Some things that make me go "hmmm"....

One of my favorite RTW dresses- see discussion in post

One of my favorite RTW dresses- see discussion in post

I have a few more dresses to post soon, but I wanted to share some thoughts. I've been contemplating a lot of random things lately, regarding sewing.

1.) MACHINES: I have a Singer Esteem II 2273. I bought it at Target for $130.00. At the time of purchase, I was brand new to sewing and wasn't sure whether I'd be able to learn, so I didn't want to invest a lot of money into a machine. The machine's okay, but I'm wondering if there are other machines that perform better. So, in your experiences, do you find that the quality of the machine makes a difference? I'm thinking of getting a new machine, but if one machine is basically as good as the next, I don't want to buy a new one.

If you think a better machine would make a difference in my sewing projects, let me know what machine you'd recommend and why it's better. Any help would be immensely appreciated! I don't really trust online consumer review sites-- so many times I've bought something based on reviews and the item was NOT good. I swear there are companies "padding" their products with good reviews.

2.) FABRIC OR FIT?: Because I'm a pretty picky person when it comes to my clothes, I like to be "wowed" by them. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but I always go for that "wow" factor when I'm shopping as well. Example: My friend and I will go shopping and we'll go to 10 stores. She's purchase something at least 2/3 of the stores. It would be a shock if I came out with one thing.

I haven't had much of a "wow" factor when it comes to my sewing projects. This frustrates me, because unlike RTW fashion, I had to go through a lot of work to make the item. As such, the urge to "wow" myself is even greater because of the work involved. I keep wondering: is my failure to "wow" myself due to not fitting my dresses as good as I could? Or, is it due to not using the right fabrics? I still have not found a fabric that I'm really in love with. I tried to compare my fabrics on my "wow" factor RTW dresses in my closet. Here's what I come up with:

1.) 100% polyester
2.) 67% polyester, 30% rayon, 3% spandex
3.) 100% cotton
4.) 92% polyester, 8% spandex
5.) 94% rayon, 6% spandex

So, there's obviously a trend toward polyester and/or rayon with a touch of spandex. But 100% cotton?? It's weird because the cotton dress has a lot of stretch to it, but there is no spandex in it.

And here's where I get more confused...I have used different 100% polyester fabrics and they weren't the same. I guess they have a different fiber content depending on the manufacturer?

Sigh...I must say that when it comes to sewing, fabric is an area where I'm really frustrated and lost.

Or am I wrong? Is it not the fabric but merely the fit being off? I'm running in circles, really.

Okay, so at the top of this post, I have pasted a picture of one of my absolute favorite RTW dresses. It fits me like a glove and it's this blend: 67% polyester, 30% rayon, 3% spandex. That dress is a black and blue sleeveless. The other dress is another favorite (fit wise).

3.) PATTERNS: Okay, I love the 60's mod stuff (as you know), but I'm wondering if I should also experiment with the early 60's more "mad men", Bettie Page style. Since I'm really struggling with getting the right fit as a beginning sewer, I'm wondering if I'd have an easier time with these styles (i.e. since the style is already closer to the body, which is what I tend to go for).

Okay and if I do go for these styles, I definitely need fabric recommendations. I've also posted pictures of some of the patterns I've bought in that style. Any help would be mucho appreciated.

Happy sewing!


  1. Hi Astrid, for me the most important factor in a sewing machine is "does it make you excited to sew?". I sew on old machines, because I think they are beautiful things and they feel so solid and I love the idea of their history and so forth. However, I know some people are equally excited about their new machines with all the bells and whistles. Perhaps you could shop around a bit and see if there is a machine out there - new or old - that inspires you. Or, you might find your own machine is just as good. I find I don't even use the limited fancy stitches my old machines have. Plain and zigzag is about it. Maybe you could use an overlocker/serger? (If you're looking to treat yourself.)
    I'd love to see you try one of those other pattern types, but they'd be best in something non-stretch or a cotton blend with just a little stretch I think. Might be best to make a muslin since the fitting will probably need to be more precise.

  2. Hi, I have a Janome MW3018LE that cost just over $400AU recommended retail was much higher but they are always on sale. So middle of the range. I have thought about upgrading and spoke to the ladies at a sewing machine shop about why I thought I would like to upgrade what was next up from my machine and why would it be better. The only difference from mine to the next is a computer rather than a manual machine. They gave me some tips on my problem stitches and helped me to understand what the tension affected when changed. With some practice on scraps that are from the fabric I had been using I was able to understand my machine better. Also I always run the fabric I am using through the machine double thickness like I am really sewing to see what I will get and adjust accordingly.
    I sew with knits most of the time and I always change the presser foot pressure so it is the lightest it can be. If you machine doesn't have this and your fabric is moving when you sew or puckering this might be something you would like in a machine. Can you adjust the length and width of all your stitches or is it just
    pre-set? If you machine is the one I looked up it mentions not having these options I would upgrade to something that you are in total control of your sewing and I wouldn't think you would have to spend much more to do this.
    I think the fabric in the top dress would probably be a double knit not that I can tell from the photo but it looks thicker rather than draping a lot. They say the amount of stretch in a fabric will affect the fit so if you have lots of stretch you make it smaller that if it only just stretches a bit. Also for the hemming use a twin needle if you can with that machine.
    Good luck Nai

  3. Hi! I don't think the fiber content is all what a fabric is about. There is also the knit vs. woven (knits are always stretchy and mostly drapey, wovens only stretch if they are very loosely woven or contain lycra/spandex/elasthane), how thick are the fibers (like, sweater/hoodie knit vs. fine/t-shirt knit) and how tightly or loosely is it woven/knitted? I'm not sure if you have a good fabric shop were you live, but if you do, I'd take the dresses you like most there with you and ask for something similar.

    As for trying an early 60s style - why not? The pattern envelopes should have fabric recommendations on them, but I think you probably can't go wrong with a nice woven cotton or cotton sateen fabric - or I could see the third pattern in a thicker cotton or poly twill. Those fabrics aren't stretchy, but I think think the patterns don't really call for that - though I guess you could try...

  4. 1. You have some good suggestions on the machine, and the only thing I'd add is that unless you want to get a new machine, and the one you have works, then it should be fine. Quality is subjective here. I sew on a 1927 machine that has no electricity and makes a straight stitch only and one from the 1960s that has several other stitches including zig zag and button holes. I test drove several other machines in the $500-1500 price range and found I still prefer the treadle, and didn't purchase another machine. I don't even like the one from the 60s I have.

    2. I have stuff I made, that I spend quite a while on...and I don't like them. They are made well, they get compliments and I feel very eh about them. Sometimes you spend so much time with them that you lose the wow factor, and sometimes they're just like that. Sometimes letting them sit in a closet when you feel like that can help you rediscover the "omg, I want this" again. Most of the time I find I like things better when this happens, although I still have a coat I am waiting to like again.

    Fabric suggestions are on the back of the envelope, and maybe you can use those to get a better fit. If you want to use something that isn't listed, check with the ones that are and get fabric that is as thin as the suggestions and drapes just like it. That might help somewhat.

    Polyester is man made and can be made from different methods, and can produce different fabrics. I have a shirt made from what I call old lady polyester (the thick crap that my grandmother wore) and I have some that is a polyester taffeta. Each of these fabrics in this case is 100% polyester, but the first one is supposed to mimic jersey (and it fails although it is a knit) and the second obviously, taffeta (which doesn't). Here looking at the textiles the patterns call for can help you be able to determine which textiles you need, polyester or not.

    Example: I have a pattern similar to the last one and the fabric suggestions are linen, cotton, pique, lightweight wool, flannel, tweed, silks, shantung. Each of these are going to obviously be somewhat different, but they share a common structure: they are non stretch, mid-weight fabrics that has some drape to the fabric instead of being stiff. I can then look at polyesters and blends that wear similar to suiting, or are poly versions of any of these suggestions. If in doubt go look at some of the fabrics listed and then find a fabric that you like. As long as it is similar to the suggestions, you will be fine.

    The 100% cotton: if it was sewn on the bias, it may have a little more give than on the grain.

    Starting with the fabric suggestions may also help with getting a better fit, too. Using the suggestions can help you learn the properties of fabrics and help you demystify the fabric choices too.

    3. Sew what you want. If you don't like the styles and don't think you'll be happier with them over the mod, don't waste your time with them. If you do, read the back of the envelopes or the instruction sheet. They have fabric suggestions for those patterns on them.

    Your mileage may vary with these, but this is my suggestions.

  5. I am far from an expert and therefore can't offer any advice....but I have to say that I LOVE the blue & black dress! It definitely gets a "wow" from me. I have just recently gotten over my fear of knits and that dress is keeping me inspired. :) Leah in Largo, FL

  6. 1. As they say a bad tradesman blames his tools. I bought my first machine as a beginner sewer in 2002 I think and it was replaced jsut a few months ago - a very basic machine it was, and lasted over a year after it's fight with the heater (in which the heater won warping the front bit so it wouldn't fit on anymore).

    I have found that there are many machines out there and the more expensive the more they do, but I never use more than a straight stitch, zig zag stitch and now the one step button hole. I have a seperate overlocker/serger so I don't need any of those stitches anyway.

    I don't think personally that a new machine would make any real difference with your level of sewing at the moment. Wait until you want to do something that your machine can't do and spend the money on the best materials, threads and patterns instead as thats where the real difference will be.

    2. Given the way you like to fit your dresses I would suggest that you always look for a little spandex or a knit. You need some stretch to get that fitted look just the way you want it. Otherwise it is all trial and error. The other way to be extra careful is to only buy from the suggested fabrics (but i find this unadventurous).

    3. The WOW factor. Face it you won't ever live up to your expectations, especially if you made it. Because you know that that side seam is a little crooked, or that that zip isn't perfect. The fact that those who don't know it can't see it is irrelevant, you know it is there and thus you see it.

    Others think your work has the wow factor, and whilst I will agree that there are some greater successes than others, but thats life.

    In regards to the early 60's stuff, you should give it a go if you want - nothing wrong with branching out. Personally I find the patterns a bit 'harder' in the early versus the shift dress because of that shaping but it will likely "suit" you better with the large bust small waist ratio being moulded in the outfit instead of with stretch.

    In the end you started sewing a few months ago, you can't expect to be perfect now, but the progress you have made is phenomonal... Keep it up and in the end you will have that wow.

  7. Astrid! Amei seus vestidos!!!
    Você trabalha muito bem.
    Vou me espelhar em você.
    Coloca o google tradutor para que eu possa traduzir para o Português.

  8. Hi Astrid! I tagged you... Cheers Monique xx

  9. Wow, so much to think about! Thank you to everyone for all the input.

  10. Hi Astrid! Just came across your blog thanks to your posts on Sew Retro :-) I have been reading through it and this post caught my eye, because I have just purchased the McCalls 6473 dress pattern! I am super excited to see you have it too! Perhaps we can swap tips as we make it? I have blogged about it on my blog:

    To answer your question - my sewing machine is one I was given 12 years ago when I was 14 by my Mum! Simple, Janome machine, and works a tread. I would worry about buying a computer one, only because I imagine if something in the computer system broke it would cost more to fix...?

    Am now a follower of your blog :-)

    Sam xox